Denzel Hayes Washington Jr. (born December 28, 1954) is an American actor, director, and producer. It wasn’t always easy for Denzel Washington, the son of a beauty shop owner and a Pentecostal minister from the Bronx. His childhood and his college years were tough; filled with tons of failures and struggles that only made him more determined to keep on going and one day become one of the most recognizable and beloved faces in Hollywood.
His decades-long career has brought him tons of phenomenal roles which he’s played with an unmatched and impressive ability and emotion. He’s able to lend so much empathy to the characters that he plays, making it look so easy and effortless.
From civil rights activist Malcolm X to wrongly imprisoned boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Denzel Washington has given a number of memorable performances over his 30-plus year career. He added another to his resume in 2017 as a legal savant in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” The film brought him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, the ninth bid of his career and his eighth for acting and also one of the his recent movie “The Equalizer 1&2”. How does this latest entry compare to the rest of his filmography? Tour through our photo gallery above of Washington’s 10 greatest movies.
Washington snagged his first Oscar nomination exactly 30 years ago: Best Supporting Actor for “Cry Freedom” (1987). It was a mere two years later when Washington won that category for “Glory” (1989). And he made history 12 years after that when “Training Day” made him the first black actor since Sidney Poitier (“Lilies of the Field” in 1963) to win in the lead category.
- Malcolm X (1992)
Malcolm X is an American biographical drama about the life of Malcolm X, an African-American Muslim minister and activist. He’s known as one of the most influential African-Americans in American history, as he advocated for the rights of African-Americans his whole life.
The movie focuses on the key points of Malcolm’s life including losing his father to the KKK, his incarceration, his criminal career, his conversion to Islam and his time as a minister and human rights activist. Other key events in his life that are included in the movie are his marriage to Betty X, his concerns about the whites, and the treatment of blacks in America, as well as his assassination by members of the Nation of Islam.
For his spot on portrayal of one of the most significant activists in the 50s, Denzel Washington was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Actor, and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award.
- Fences (2016)
Fences is an American period drama film starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. The film was directed and produced by Denzel Washington, based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play written in 1985. The film is set in the 1950s and examines a few themes including race relations and the African-American experience.
The focus in Fences is put on Troy, played by Denzel Washington, who struggles to provide for his family. He lives and provides for his wife, his son and his ex-soldier brother whose head injury has left him with significant psychological damage.
The film features Troy’s struggles as he goes from a trash collector to a truck driver. He’s stung by his personal failings as a baseball player, and the fact that he missed his chance to play Major League Baseball due to his race, makes him bitter and jealous to the point of not allowing his son to play baseball himself.
Troy’s mistakes and disappointments continue to affect his family and his relationship with his sons deter even more as he bites back at his son, saying:
“It’s my duty to take care of you, I owe a responsibility to you, I ain’t got to like you!”
The film is a moving story of heartache, death, family and bitterness, which was delivered splendidly by Washington and Davis.
- Glory (1989)
Glory is an American Civil War drama, starring Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman.
The movie is about the first all-black army battalion, where Denzel Washington plays an escaped slave who’s decided to join the army. His portrayal of the struggles that the first all-black army battalion faced brought him his first Oscar and a role we’ll always remember.
His level of commitment to the role is what actually got him his first Oscar.
Here’s one of the most iconic scenes from that movie, where Private Silas Tripp (Denzel Washington) stands his ground and stares defiantly at his commanding officer, while getting whipped as a punishment.
- Training Day (2001)
It took 38 years for another black performer to win the Academy Award as Best Actor after Sidney Poitier’s historic victory for “Lilies of the Field” (1963), and it’s fitting that Washington would do so on the same night Poitier received his honorary Oscar. He plays Alonzo Harris, a rogue LAPD detective who shows a young rookie (Ethan Hawke) the ropes in an action-packed first day. Despite some glaring storytelling contrivances, Washington is electrifying in a rare villainous performance. Washington reunited with director Antoine Fuqua on “The Equalizer” (2014) and “The Magnificent Seven” (2016).
- Flight (2012)
It took Washington 11 years to return to the Oscar race after his Best Actor win for “Training Day” (2001), and it was well worth the wait.
Flight is an American drama starring Denzel Washington as a veteran commercial airlines pilot who does a miraculous job of crash landing his plane into a field, saving almost everyone on board, and becoming an overnight hero.
However, what the investigation soon uncovers is a drug and alcohol abuse and shines a different light on the famous pilot.
- American Gangster (2007)
In “Training Day” and “American Gangster,” Washington proves he’s really good when playing bad. Directed by Ridley Scott, this biographical drama recounts the criminal career of Frank Lucas (Washington), a Harlem drug lord who smuggled heroin into the United States through American service planes returning from Vietnam. “American Gangster” is far from a perfect film: it spends too much time on the home-life of the New York City cop (Russell Crowe) charged with taking Lucas down. But Washington is electrifying, as is Ruby Dee in an Oscar-nominated supporting performance as Frank’s loving mother. He reaped a Golden Globe bid for Best Film Drama Actor
- Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)
Though this legal drama from Dan Gilroy received mixed reviews, we object to anyone who thinks Washington didn’t give one of his best performances as an autistic, idealistic defense attorney pushed to the brink by life-changing events. Vulnerable, awkward, with outdated clothes and a bad afro, Roman is a change of pace for Washington, who’s better known for playing strong, domineering men. With his eighth acting bid (and ninth overall), Washington broke his own record as the most nominated black performer in Oscar history.
- Inside Man (2006)
Inside Man is an American crime thriller, starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster.
Washington plays a detective who’s somehow finds himself in a cat and mouse game with a sharp bank robber with a lot of tricks up his sleeve and a larger plan in mind that anyone anticipated.
Denzel shows a particular level of humanity and weakness in the heroic detective and delivers a stunningly realistic performances that are convincing even when there’s little to be convinced about.
- Philadelphia (1993)
Most of the praise for Jonathan Demme’s “Philadelphia” goes to Tom Hanks’ Oscar-winning performance as a gay lawyer dying of AIDS. Yet equally impressive is Washington’s turn as the homophobic ambulance chaser hired to represent him when he’s wrongfully terminated by his law firm. Sadly, Washington received no awards recognition for the film, but that doesn’t diminish the subtly with which he charts his character’s development from venal bigot to human right’s advocate.
- The Hurricane (1999)
Despite some historical inaccuracies, there’s no denying Washington gives a knockout performance as Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a boxer wrongfully convicted of murder, in Norman Jewison’s biographical drama. Washington looked like a sure thing to win his second Oscar after a Golden Globe victory, but he was defeated in the final round by Kevin Spacey (“American Beauty”).
Washington has been featured in over 50-plus movies and he did exceedingly well in all of this movies as he is one of the best black actor of all times.
Also worthy of mention are;
- Man on Fire
- The Equalizer 1&2
- The great debaters
- The Hot Game
- Much Ado About Nothing